8 Tricks for Surviving a Bad Neighborhood

I have never had to live in a really bad neighborhood. But my wife did.

When she was 18 and 19, she lived in a really bad neighborhood in a city that, at the time, had the highest homicide rates in America.

She got mugged, got in the middle of a shooting, and dealt with a lot of sketchy characters on a daily basis – but never once got injured or lost (much of) her belongings.

These tips on how to survive a bad neighborhood mostly come from her real-life experience.

Blend In!

Nothing will make you more of a target than looking like you don’t belong in the neighborhood. Now, blending in doesn’t mean you have to start wearing the latest ghetto fashions and adopt a swagger to your walk.

Blending in is all about showing that you are comfortable in the surroundings.

The worst thing you can do is show fear.

Fear has a scent, and believe me, it isn’t just dogs that can pick up on it!

Hold your head up when you walk.

Don’t quicken your pace out of fear.

Don’t keep looking over your shoulders.

And don’t cross the street to avoid a shady-looking character.

This will just make you look scared.

If you see a group of suspicious people, then avoid that street (city streets are usually really short).

Better yet, scope out the street before you turn down it. If there is a large group on one side, then stay on the other side of the street or avoid that street completely.

If someone is looking at you, just be polite (yes, be polite!). Smile and say “Hello,” and walk on. Or give them a head nod.

Obviously, there are some situations where you wouldn’t want to be so polite – like if you are a woman and a man is leering at you. But, if the man says something to you (such as a lewd “how ya doin’ baby?”), just answer sternly (“Fine, thanks.”) and keep walking.

Getting lost in a bad neighborhood can be a death sentence if you don’t handle it properly.

Never show that you are lost!

Just keep walking and acting like you know where you are going.  Never stop in the middle of the street to check directions on your phone, and don’t ask anyone for directions.

When you see a store, go inside and then check the GPS on your phone.

Ask for directions as a last resort.

Act Crazy

A sketchy character is coming towards you, and you think you are done for? In these situations, my wife would follow a great survival trick: she’d act crazy.

Her method was to go to the nearest trash can and start looking through it. She’d also twitch a little bit. It made her look like some crazy lady.

Nobody wants to mess with a crazy person! They are unpredictable.   If you wave a gun in front of a sane person’s face and tell him/her to hand over their money, they will be rational and listen.

But you never know how a crazy person will react, which is why acting crazy can save you from being targeted.

Never Keep Cash and Cards All In One Place

The first week that my wife moved to the bad neighborhood, she was mugged. It was by two heroin addicts, one of which probably had a gun (he was pointing it at her through his jacket, so it might not have actually been a gun).

But thieves are lazy by nature. Especially muggers.

Instead of grabbing her purse, they simply said, “give us your money!”

My wife actually had more than $300 on her that day. But instead of handing it all over, she reached into her purse and pulled out a $5 bill. The muggers were ecstatic, grabbed the money, and ran off.

That experience taught my wife a valuable lesson. On occasions where she had to carry large sums of cash, she divided it up: some in her wallet, some in her pocket, some in her bra… When she got mugged again, she just handed over the money in her wallet.

If you primarily use credit and debit cards, then you will want to do the same. Keep one card in your wallet and another in your pocket or other area. This way, you will still have at least one card if the others get stolen.

Don’t Walk

Avoid walking in bad neighborhoods.   Try to avoid public transportation too, because this means you will have to spend a lot of time waiting at street corners for the bus.

But, if you live in the ghetto, you probably can’t afford a car.  Instead, ride a bike.   And get a big U lock for it!  You will be going too fast on your bike to become a target.

Beware of Teenagers

Believe it or not, teens are often a lot more dangerous than adults. They are bored, lack any discipline, and have poor judgment.

And, unlike most adult criminals, juveniles usually lack any clear motive, such as robbing your money. They just want to make chaos.

Don’t believe me? Just read the news. Recently there was a woman in Chicago who was attacked by a gang of teenagers while in her car with her two small children.

When my wife was living in the bad neighborhood, it was groups of 12-YEAR-OLDS who would wait at intersections and start chasing and hitting people. She always made sure to ride her bike extra fast when she saw a group of 3 or more kids together!

Why did they do it? No good reason at all! So beware of groups of juveniles.

Know Where the Police Are

This is a good tip that I actually picked up from a Hardy Boys book when I was a kid. When you are worried that you are being followed, or need to flee, then head towards the nearest police station. The moment the bad guy sees where you are, he is going to go away and fast!

Sneakers and Boots Only

Forget about high heels and sandals. If you ever need to run or fight an attacker, you will want to have sturdy shoes on.

The sneakers are better for running, and a kick to the groin with steel-toed boots will make attackers drop to their knees. If you’ve got to wear heels, then put them on when you get to your destination.

Know How to Defend Yourself

If someone tries to rob you in a bad neighborhood, never try to resist. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

But you might find yourself in a situation where you need to defend yourself.

Further, knowing self-defense skills and having a weapon will boost your confidence so you are less likely to look afraid while in a bad neighborhood – and looking afraid is the worst thing you can do!

Don’t want to carry a gun?  You aren’t defenseless.  Check out these discreet self-defense weapons you can carry anywhere.

Have you ever lived in a bad neighborhood?  What tricks did you use to stay safe? Let us know in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

Kensington, Philadelphia 007 by Simon; Found on Flickr; CC License BY ND NC 2.0

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  1. I could go on and on but you provided good tips. As someone that unfortunately doesn’t have the opportunity to leave my low income housing due to declining health I have followed your tips and others learned for many years. Another tip I can offer is being hands free, don’t carry anything at all, if possible. If you are a loving pet owner and give your dog the exercise they deserve, early morning, 7am is a good time to walk. Thugs aren’t cruising the streets at that time and punky teens are still sleeping. Anyone on the road are *probably* normal people heading to work and the sun is up.

    • It’s true. I used to hang out in downtown Detroit a lot as a teenage girl and I learned it from the street people there. Despite hanging out and often being alone and some seriously shady places, I was never even mugged. The twitchy erratic movements and mumble yelling work really well. For some reason people just stay the hell away from the crazy folk no matter the age or gender.

      I dressed poorly but warmly. I carried a nearly empty pack of cigarettes even when I didn’t smoke and I only carried matches, never a lighter. People who could afford a lighter might have a couple bucks but people who can only afford matches? It’s such a small tiny signal that most people wouldn’t think of it but that’s the most anyone ever asked of me, and I do it was a gauge to see how much I had. So I would offer them a crumpled up nearly empty pack of cigarettes and a crumpled up nearly empty matchbook and tell them that I had another pack of matches so they could keep it. It was a way of showing pleasantry without seeming like I had money. Back in the ’80s most places would give away matches so offering them was a way of being nice but it didn’t imply I had any money to spare.

      I was tall but very slender and much prettier than I realized at that age. The occasional mutter and twitch and holding my head up while I walked no matter how scary the situation probably kept me a hell of a lot safer than I ought to have been in those situations.

      My friends would often want to take their cars down into cass corridor (which is an astonishingly nice place nowadays) but I always insisted we take my entirely rusted out shitty old hoopty. I didn’t want to look like a target from the second we drove in and got out of the car, thankfully most of my female friends listened to my advice and we stayed safe.

      One time we saw an accident happen right in front of us it was a hit-and-run, So when the cops finally showed up a teenage girl came screaming and running down the street towards us dressed only from the waist down in 20°F weather. She was actively being attacked and the fact that the cops were there was the only reason she escaped. It really was not a great area back then. It put it rather in perspective- She couldn’t have run far wearing only pants in cold like that, So clearly it happened very close by. I kept a lot of spare clothes in the trunk of my car and she was the same size as me so I just stripped off my warm clothes and put them on her immediately, and grabbed my spare clothes from the trunk.

      I sometimes wonder about her and if she was okay. What were the odds? We were just witnesses to an accident and trying to make sure the injured driver didn’t get out of the car before an ambulance got there because he was not in good shape and could have had a spinal cord injury. She didn’t come running until the cop showed up- which is understandable, I’m sure she had no reason to believe that a bunch of teenage suburbanites were going to help her.

      Looking back at some of the places I used to hang out I am horrified and frankly amazed.

      It’s not like I was never attacked but it was always by suburban dudes in suburban areas, when my guard was down.

      • Same here. I was a pest control exterminator way back, and my route was 2 extremes of philadelphia – west philly and the other side of city line avenue. Never had any trouble in west philly, aka the bad side. Was accosted by a man with his children in the house on the supposedly nice side of town. I wouldn’t have hesitated to use my sprayer to slug him if he persisted.

  2. If you’re being mugged, you should *always* give the mugger what they’ve asked for… but don’t just hand it over. Instead, throw it behind the mugger a fair distance and, after the mugger is through cussing you out and goes to retrieve their bounty, you can take off like the proverbial bat outta Hell. Even if you know the mugger has a gun, nine times out of 10 the mugger will be happy with whatever you threw as well as not being a very good shot. Believe me, muggers don’t spend their days at the gun range practicing their “art.”

  3. Overall good article. Here’s my $.02 on it:

    I tend to disagree with the “don’t fight” idea with muggings/robberies. It can be blood in the water, since accommodation can lead to escalation when dealing with an instigator.

    This is true with a lot of attackers (ex: rapists, child molesters, power freaks) & if they think they’re taking a sledgehammer to a teacup, but you don’t act like a teacup, that can take the taste out it.

    Also, I didn’t see anything on makeshift weapons in there. A Masterlock in the hand like a brass knuckle is an interesting option. I don’t know why someone couldn’t roll some carpet or cardboard around a kitchen knife & tape it off to put in their waistband/purse. So much could be said for a piece of hose with a bolt taped into it & maybe some sand to fill it up the rest of the way.

    • Always open for good debate on here and you make some good points. It comes down to knowing yourself and how you will react in a fight or flight situation. Without wanting to state the obvious every situation and assailant is different so impossible to give a rigid answer as to the best response. As far as carrying concealed weapons is concerned we would urge caution. Always consult the relevant laws in your state before going down this road.

  4. I live like a 5 min walk from a rough area of where I live and I’m planning on going there for the day and half of the evening there so wish me luck and don’t do what I’m doing cause there’s drug dealers and stuff like that

    • In my life, I’ve been robbed three times (I am over 50 yrs. old now). I was young then and preyed upon suddenly.

      Presently, and have now for years, I instinctively follow the guidelines as outlined in this article. Thanks for an excellent and insightful article.


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